By Genalyn Kabiling
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo hit back at former United States Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright and other foreign groups for allegedly intruding into the country’s sovereign affairs following their pronouncements against the cyber libel conviction of a veteran journalist.
According to Panelo, Clinton and Albright have issued “impertinent” and “outrageous” statements against the court ruling on Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of Rappler.
“Ang problema naman dito sa dalawang ito sina (The problem with these two) Hillary Clinton at saka si (and) Madeleine Albright, with due respect to the two of you, you are not only intruding into the judicial system of our country of which you are absolutely ignorant of, you are also dishing out impertinent and outrageous statements against the Ressa conviction,” Panelo said during his online “Counterpoint” program.
With due respect, your statements are intrusion into the country’s sovereignty),” he said in Pilipino.
Clinton, former First Lady and senator, expressed support for Ressa, saying she was convicted “for doing her job.” She quoted human rights lawyer Amal Clooney who claimed the court verdict sends a message to journalists to “keep quiet, or you’ll be next.” “We must fiercely protest attacks on the press. They are attacks on democracy,” Clinton tweeted.
Albright also rallied behind Ressa following her conviction. “I stand with Maria Ressa. #HoldTheLine #CourageON #DefendPressFreedom,” she said.
Last June 15, Ressa and a former writer were sentenced by the court to up to six years in prison and ordered to pay damages after being found guilty of cyber libel. A businessman earlier filed a complaint against Ressa for publishing an alleged defamatory article against him.
Panelo informed Clinton and Albright that the court verdict on Ressa was about accountability for the “abuse” of press freedom.
“For your education and enlightenment, the conviction is a penalty for the abuse of press freedom. Because the accused violated the rights of a person through their report,” he said in Pilipino.
“They did not verify. It turned out the allegations were not true,” he said in Pilipino.
He said Rappler also refused to retract the story or even publish the side of the concerned party. He said Ressa’s camp also failed to offer proof that there was no malice in its report.
Apart from the two former US officials, Panelo slammed the US Department of State spokesperson Morgan Ortagus, the European Union External Action Services (EEAS), and a United Nations envoy for their alleged interference in the internal affairs of the Philippines.
The United States earlier voiced concern about the court ruling on Ressa and called for a resolution of the case “in a way that reinforces the U.S. and Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press.”
Panelo told the US State Department that the court decision cannot simply be changed, adding that Ressa’s camp can file a motion for reconsideration or an appeal.
On the EU body’s statement, Panelo said this was “another display of intrusion to our sovereign affairs.”
The group earlier said Ressa’s conviction raises doubts over the respect for free speech and rule of law in the Philippines. It expected the Philippines “to uphold its international human rights obligations and protect and promote fundamental freedoms.”
In the same program, Panelo took a swipe at United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye for allegedly joining the “lynch mob.”
“David Kaye should study first. Your statement is not true. For us, your arrogance in interfering with the country is incorrigible and intrusive,” he said in Pilipino.
Kaye earlier claimed that Ressa’s conviction marked a “new low” in the Philippines’ protection of free speech and media freedom.